Michigan billionaire, charter school and school voucher advocate, and Trump nominee for education secretary Betsy DeVos appeared before Senate for her confirmation hearing this week.
DeVos defended her support of directing federal education funds to options other than public schools and argued "that it was time to move away from a 'one size fits all' system and toward newer models for students from preschool to college," as reported in The New York Times.
From there, "the hearing quickly became a heated and partisan debate that reflected the nation’s political divide on how best to spend public money in education."
In response to limitations set by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, that included a single, five-minute round of questioning for each senator, Senator Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) stated, "it suggests that this committee is trying to protect this nominee from scrutiny.”
Topics about which Democrats questioned DeVos include the following:
- her family's contributions to groups that support "conversion therapy" for gay people,
- her contributions to Republicans and Republican causes,
- derogatory comments she made about government and public schools,
- her active opposition to laws that would limit expansion of failing charter schools in Detroit,
- her qualifications to run the organization that oversees public schools and student loans when neither she nor her children have attended or worked in public schools or made use of student loans.
In an "Answer Sheet" article titled "Six astonishing things Betsy DeVos said — and refused to say — at her confirmation hearing," The Washington Post reported that when Senator Al Franken (D-Minn) questioned her about issues surrounding how to measure student progress, she had no response. "The query essentially rendered her speechless as she appeared not to know how to answer. When Franken told her he was upset she didn’t understand it, she did not protest."
Other instances reported in the Post article include:
- On the issue of whether guns should be allowed at schools, DeVos deferred to Trump, who has promised to end gun-free zones around schools, and noted that in Wyoming, perhaps guns would be needed at schools to fend off bears.
- Enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be left to the states, according to DeVos, who appeared not to understand that it is a federal law.
- DeVos would not agree that all schools receiving public funds — "public schools, charter schools, or private schools that receive voucher money — should be held to the same standards of accountability."
- "DeVos did not answer Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) when he asked her what she had learned about the failures of the Detroit traditional public and public charter schools that would inform her decision-making as the secretary of education."
Finally, the Post noted another issue that arose at the hearing. "DeVos said her name should not have been included on tax forms for her mother’s foundation, which has contributed to controversial causes. The forms say that she was vice president and a member of the board."
“'That was a clerical error,' DeVos said. 'I have never made decisions on my mother’s behalf.'”
DeVos's work as secretary of education, should she be confirmed by the Senate, will be something educators at all levels in the United States will want to watch closely.